Written by Fiona Pepper
One of Australia's big shopping centre chains is considering introducing robotic cleaners, with trials underway at DFO Homebush in Sydney.
The Vicinity Centres trial is an Australian first, focused on "automated night cleaning".
The chunky robot, which is roughly 50 centimetres tall, is a hands-free system with 11 sensors, giving the robot a 360-degree view which allows it to "operate and clean autonomously".
In a statement, Vicinity Centres insisted that if the trial was successful, cleaning contractors would be redeployed rather than dismissed.
"The focus of incorporating this kind of smart cleaning technology into our centres is to reinvest and redeploy our cleaning contractors into areas that vastly improve our presentation standards and our customer experiences," it said.
Vicinity Centres has more that 80 shopping centres throughout Australia.
At what cost?
But Professor Katina Michael from the University of Wollongong's School of Computing and Information Technology told ABC Radio Melbourne that she had some reservations about the new technology.
"I think they're very good in terms of the innovation side and what they're potentially able to do in replacement of a human," she said.
"However, I would say there are a lot of things that people aren't thinking about regarding upgrades, maintenance ... there are other real costs that people aren't thinking about."
Will bots take over blue-collar jobs?
So does the robotic cleaning trial indicate a shift in the roles people will be employed in into the future?
Bright red cleaning robot.
PHOTO: Professor Michael warns of the negative social impacts robots could have on the workplace. (Supplied: Vicinity Centres)
"We've seen ATMs take over banks and mobile banking take over bank branches, we've seen self checkouts at supermarkets, we've seen driverless vehicles," Professor Michael said.
She said she believed, based on previous examples of technology integration, the focus on reskilling individuals at Vicinity Centres was a good one.
But Professor Michael added she was concerned with the introduction of robotic security guards which are on trial at Microsoft centres.
She warned that we should approach this new technology with caution.
"We do have to think about the potential for harm and that's what I think we're not doing properly.
"Instead we're looking at new innovation that hasn't been proven and we're going at it at 100 miles per hour without realising, 'well, one of these machines could hurt someone if it malfunctions'.
"They're not foolproof and they do fail, and when they do fail it's a cataclysmic failure, unfortunately."
YOUTUBE: Are robotic security guards the future?
Professor Michael was also concerned about the potentially negative social impact this technology could have.
"What's going to happen with income inequality; masses of people will be effectively unemployed if this becomes mainstream and will it affect social order.
"Most [technology] experts believe that many of these kinds of bots will be taking over blue-collar and white-collar work."
The Vicinity Centres robotic cleaning trial is nearly complete; a decision will then be made whether or not to adopt robotic cleaners.
Topics: computers-and-technology, robots-and-artificial-intelligence, unemployment, human-interest, retail, homebush-2140, melbourne-3000, australia